Review: God of Carnage, Gielgud

Yasmin Reza’s new play, God of Carnage presented here in a translation by Christopher Hampton, mines her familiar territory of social hypocrisy in skillfully dissecting the mutual disdain of two middle class couples. And as a four-hander, it has pulled together a truly heavyweight cast that is most impressive.

Michel and his terribly socially aware wife Véronique, are hosting an uncomfortable little tea party for another couple, Alain and Annette. The connection between the two couples is the assault by the visitors’ 11-year-old son Ferdinand who, following a verbal insult, took a bamboo stick to the hosts’ slightly younger Bruno removing two teeth. There’s a few cagey attempts to resolve the situation peacefully but as the meeting goes on, serious tensions emerge, hackles are raised and the behaviour of all concerned degenerates into the simply outrageous.

As the bitterly disappointed Michel and Véronique, the would-be moral crusader who is actually more concerned about her Kokoschka catalogue being ruined by some impromptu vomiting Ken Stott and Janet McTeer are both superb, Stott unleashing his frustration on his daughter’s hamster and McTeer unable to conceal the emptiness of her marriage despite ostensibly caring so much for others and some great clafouti baking skills. And as the visiting high-flying but morally dubious corporate lawyer Alain and Annette, Ralph Fiennes and Tamsin Greig are more than a match for their hosts. Fiennes nails the palpably radiating contempt for most everything and everyone, permanently attached to his mobile phone despite the importance of the conversation around him and Greig amuses as the initially coquettish wife who is finally able to get release from years of repressed feelings in a satisfying act of revenge.

In the brightly-lit and blood red living room set which is neatly framed, the pent-up fury and unspoken frustrations explode in the most entertaining of fashions. That said, there is a strange disconnect between how well-drawn and believable each of the characters are to the situations they are in. Getting so drunk so quickly is clearly a dramatic device but it stretches its plausibility and whilst the humour is in the breakdown of the relationships, there isn’t enough to suggest how the apparently wildly different Veronique and Michel have managed to stay married for so long: it ends up being stronger at exposing the bourgeois pretensions of middle class civility between couples than at actually examining the dynamics between husband and wife.

Despite these slight misgivings, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this show though. It is so well cast and well acted, with its ever-shifting alliances allowing all sorts of interactions and an incredible sequence of laugh-out-loud moments make it highly entertaining. Having gone with my Aunty Jean who was visiting for the weekend, it was particularly delightful to get a mega star spot just a few seats along from us: Kevin Spacey, Samantha Bond, Neil Tennant and John Cleese were all in attendance and I can report that Cleese laughs just like you think he would!

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